Sunday, May 18, 2014

Weekly Resource: Primer to Composition, Rhetoric and Literature

I realize that this week I said we'd cover more full fledged Latin curricula; however, I got sucked into google books this week.  I also ventured into Half Price Books (a serious temptation) and found one book on Composition and Rhetoric from 1917 for a dollar.  How can I pass that up?   I did wonder if it was on google books - and it is.  So you too can enjoy this great resource for FREE.

I was looking for something that gave the background to the way they used to approach writing, composition and rhetoric and this book delivers.  This book is so much more than that though!

Composition, Rhetoric and Literature a Four Year's Course for Secondary Schools
Book One: First and Second Years

From the Preface 

This book is based upon the belief that a human being learns by imitation, by repetition, and by challenge to increased exertion.   
It (this book) follows a special arrangement in presenting the subjects: Narration, Description, Exposition and Argumentation. 
 The overall goal
The subject is presented in the belief that what students need is not novelty and intellectual vaudeville, but sustained effort and the discipline which seeks to teach future citizens how to read appreciatively, how to think clearly, and how to express their ideas vividly, rationally, and with straightforward directness. 

Notes to the Teacher  

I.  Apportionment of Time.
First Year:  four recitations a week devoted to Rhetoric and Composition; one recitation to Literature
Second Year:  three recitations a week devoted to Rhetoric and Composition; two recitations to Literature
I think you see the pattern.
Writing Composition - It is expected that every student will write a theme every two weeks during his first two years, and one theme every week during his last two years in the secondary school.  (later he defines themes as short explorations of a topic)
In his suggestions on working with themes he includes these two:
The irksome task of rewriting themes should be insisted upon.
The corrections placed upon themes should be very definite, explicit and yet kindly. 
As regards corrections he says
The first criticism should, of course, be criticism of the arrangement of thought, and every student should be trained by constant vigilance to see unity, coherence, and emphasis in his compositions.  The student's success in the whole theme should be stated first, followed by detailed, specific criticism of faults in grammar, punctuation, diction, sentence structure, and paragraph structure.  (We are talking about high school students here.)
They also discuss reading aloud as a class and discussion and make the point
Training of the Imagination - Training of the visual imagination is something that becomes more and more important in these days when copious illustrations of books leaves little for this faculty to do.  
They end this section by focusing on how to help students best appreciate literature.  
An appreciation of the music of poetry, of melody and cadence, ought surely to be fostered during the early years when the ear is sensitive, for a large share of the enjoyment of literature depends upon the proper cultivation of the love of harmonious sound.  If the same poems are read frequently, they will stay in the memory as guides in the future for judging poetic measures.  Wordsworth's I wandered lonely as a cloud and The Solitary Reaper, Blake's Ah, Sunflower, Burns' A Red, Red Rose, Marlowe's The Passionate Shepherd, Ben Jonson's "Drink me to only with thine eyes," the Shakespeare songs, Herrick's "Her eyes the glow worm lend thee" and Keats' La Belle Dame Sans Merci, may be cited as poems possessed of special lyric beauty.  
I think that gives you a great idea of the depth and philosophy of the book,  The first part of the book focuses on the history of the English language, word usage, and grammar basics (with lots of details).  It moves into sentences, then paragraphs, letter writing and then into aspects of narratives (description, characterization, plot, etc.) and arguments. Examples are drawn from published authors to illustrate points. The authors then provide exercises to help students focus on that aspect of writing.

Although I don't think that I would hand this book over for a high schooler to move through on their own, it is an excellent resource.  It touches on practical and poetic aspects of writing and provides simple ways to help students grasp concepts illustrated.  It truly is a step by step guide and resource to help students learn all aspects of writing.  I have not been able to find the second book (year three and four) but honestly, this volume covers much more than most programs out there do.  

If you realize that you don't know much about poetry (like me) you might want to check out the book on Poetics (aimed at college students).  It is a quick introduction (40 pages or so) to meter, types of poems, images and figures in poetry, poetic forms and the like.  Again, each term also has an example from a published poet for reference.  I don't think we need to analyze poetry in depth with young children, but it is nice as an adult to have some sense of these categories and types.

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